LGH Protest

More than 100 people march around Penn Medicine Lancaster General Hospital on Sunday June 13, 2021, in protest of a new policy requiring staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19. 

An attorney advising Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health employees who oppose a new hospital policy mandating staff vaccinations for COVID-19 says workers who do not meet the deadline will be suspended and ultimately terminated.

Hospital officials have repeatedly declined to clarify the disciplinary steps management will take if staff flouts the policy.

Eric Winter, a Berks County lawyer advising LGH employees, said he learned of the possible suspensions and termination from workers. LG Health did not respond Thursday when asked about Winters’ claim.

In a May 19 memo to all employees, LG Health CEO John J. Herman said staff “who remain unvaccinated and who do not have an approved exemption from vaccination (after the Sept. 1 deadline) will be subject to discipline or sanctions that may ultimately preclude their ability to continue to work” for the health system.

WellSpan Health and UPMC have not yet followed suit with similar policies.

In the wake of a federal judge in Texas delivering a blow to vaccine legal challenges by tossing out a suit by Houston Methodist Hospital employees opposed to a similar policy, LNP | LancasterOnline asked officials at UPMC Lititz and WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital whether this changes the calculus.

Officials with both health systems said they were not yet contemplating a mandate.

“WellSpan Health is constantly evaluating the latest vaccine data and we will continue to encourage our team members to get their shot of hope and receive their COVID-19 vaccination,” Madeline Riggs, a WellSpan spokesperson said in an email.

LNP | LancasterOnline also inquired as to whether full U.S. FDA approval for the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines — expected as early as the fall - would influence a decision to create a mandate.

Neither Riggs nor Marcocci addressed the Texas lawsuit.

“UPMC awaits more data on the efficacy of the vaccines in preventing transmission of COVID-19 before requiring the COVID-19 vaccine for employees,” Kendall Marcocci, a UPMC Lititz spokeswoman, said in an email.

Last week, U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes upheld Houston Methodist Hospital's policy mandating employees be vaccinated against COVID-19.

‘Not guaranteed’

Protecting patients is the stated goal for LG Health’s controversial staff vaccination policy, which requires full vaccination by Sept. 1.

Winter said Wednesday that employees are being pressured to inform management of their vaccination plans by July 1.

Depending on the vaccine type and the length between the first and second dose, LG Health employees could have fewer than five weeks to comply.

Employees can seek an exemption for medical and religious reason. However, Herman warned in the May 19 memo that requests “will be carefully evaluated and are not guaranteed.”

“The real concern that people have is that legitimate exemptions are going to be denied,” Winter said.

Pennsylvania Informed Consent Advocates and FreePA — a group that organized in opposition to the Wolf administration’s COVID-19 mitigation measures — collected more than 10,000 signatures to pressure Penn Medicine to rescind the policy.

The petition was submitted Wednesday, according to a post on FreePA’s Facebook page.

Rescinding the mandate isn't likely. LG Health has consistently defended its policy.

“Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health believes it is critical to take a lead in requiring employee vaccinations to protect our patients and staff, and to set an example to the broader community as we work together to end the COVID-19 pandemic,” a hospital spokesperson said in an email to LNP | LancasterOnline.

Employees, Winter said, are hopeful the petition could prompt a course change, but short of that would pursue litigation.

The Texas ruling, Winter noted, is only binding within that court's jurisdiction.

“They’re not anti-vax,” Winter said of LG Health employees opposed to the mandate. “They want more time.”

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